W.C. Fields, who may have invented celebrity rehab, spent most of 1936 in sanitariums trying to wean himself off his all-martini diet. When NBC invited him to appear as a regular guest on The Chase and Sanborn Hour, Fields saw the radio gig as a chance to ease his way back into show biz. But the show’s hosts–ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wiseass little dummy, Charlie McCarthy–had other plans for Fields.
Although much of the Fields-McCarthy hostilities were staged for laughs, Fields actually hated the dummy, who kept reminding him about the rubber room he’d recently vacated. Ventriloquist Edgar, his lips moving madly (it was radio, remember), provided Charlie with plenty of ammo–and Fields responded in kind. “Well, Charles,” Fields would intone sonorously, “I hear you got married and raised yourself a cord of children.” When Fields said he had seen “pink mastodons” on his lawn, Charlie sFeatures back, “I hear the elephants around your place take aspirin to get rid of W.C. Fields.”
The Upper Hand: Fields smuggled a saw into the studio one day and, as a stunned Bergen looked on, finally cut his adversary down to size. “I’ll always have a warm place for you, Charlie,” Fields said. “Where?” Charlie asked. “In your heart?” “No, in my fireplace.”